For some time now, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have been locked in a high-stakes competition, using anything and anyone as props — including vulnerable migrants and children — to score points with Trump supporters and collect MAGA clout at a national level.
The feud between the two governors elected to lead two of the nation’s most ruby red states is more business than personal. It’s been clear for some time that both DeSantis and Abbott are using their gubernatorial powers to get headlines and spark outrage as they prep their national image for possible presidential bids.
And without a doubt, their carefully calculated moves and commitment to political theater is working on some level. Collecting support from MAGA-land and hate from the other side might just end up being the golden ticket to stomping Trump in the 2024 GOP primaries.
From using migrants as props to demonizing face masks, here are five ways DeSantis and Abbott have tried to out-MAGA each other over the last few years:
1. Relocating Migrants
One of the most recent examples of the ongoing Abbott-DeSantis competition involves all the key ingredients of a Republican manufactured crisis: border security fear mongering, vulnerable immigrants, and a dash of owning the libs.
Starting in April 2022, Abbott spent months and millions of dollars in taxpayer money to bus 11,000 migrants from Texas to Democrat-run cities. At the time he directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to charter buses to transport migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C. As his scheme was successful in producing headlines, he later added New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia as additional drop-off locations.
But the political theater caused some tension between the two governors when DeSantis joined the migrant relocating business, reportedly without communicating with Abbott or his team. In September, DeSantis took a page out of Abbott’s book and then one-upped him when he sparked massive outrage by flying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, garnering a whole lot of attention from the national media and praise from right-wing America.
Perhaps frustrated with the attention DeSantis got from his take on the stunt, Abbott decided to up his game and bus migrants to the nation’s capital and drop them in front of Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence. Publicly Abbott did not criticize DeSantis for beating him at his own game; but privately the Florida governor’s stunt frustrated Abbott’s team, according to the New York Times.
Not satisfied, Abbott escalated.
The most brutal part of his stunt came in December, when Abbott once again dropped off a bus full of migrants in front of the Vice President’s residence. But this time on a frigid cold Christmas Eve — the coldest on record in Washington, D.C. — with some migrants wearing only t-shirts as the temperature hovered around 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Abortion Bans
You can’t talk about GOP manufactured culture wars without getting into Republicans’ frightening obsession with controlling women’s bodies.
In May 2021 — more than a year before the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade — Abbott signed a bill into law that banned abortion in Texas post-six weeks. That’s before most women even know they are pregnant and the ban, still in effect, makes no exceptions for rape or incest.
Abbott’s bill was the first of its kind, taking enforcement of the law out of the hands of the government and into the hands of private citizens. It includes a bounty hunter style provision that makes it possible for private citizens to sue anyone who knowingly “aids or abets” an abortion, including doctors, abortion providers, drivers who provide transportation to a clinic, or even individuals who might help fund an abortion. If successful in the lawsuit, the plaintiffs — aka the private citizen bounty hunters — would receive at least $10,000 in damages from those they are suing.
The Texas law not only put the national spotlight on Abbott but also provided a blueprint for other Republican-led states to ban abortion.
Many followed suit, including Florida.
In April 2022, DeSantis, perhaps inspired by Abbott’s strategy, signed a similar bill that banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy without exemptions for rape, incest or human trafficking.
3. The So-Called War For Parental Rights
The fabricated fight over Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is fairly new — though the term itself has been around since the 1980s. In 2021, Florida — as it often does — was the first to jump on a then slowly brewing culture war around the academic framework. On June 10, the Florida Board of Education passed a rule banning critical race theory, even though it was not being taught in any public schools.
Days later, Abbott passed a controversial bill limiting how Texas teachers can talk about current events and the history of racism in the classroom. Both moves planted the seeds of the broader right-wing effort to ban certain subjects from being taught in classrooms under the guise of giving parents more control over their kids’ education.
Boosted by former President Trump’s executive order barring any training that suggests the United States is fundamentally racist — bad faith attacks on the academic framework gained traction among Republicans. The use of the term CRT skyrocketed, quickly turning school board meetings into battlegrounds and even becoming a key issue in Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s path to victory.
Less than a year later as he ran for reelection, Abbott promised a “parental bill of rights” to ensure parents are the primary decision makers in their child’s education and have access to course curriculums.
DeSantis took a cue from Abbott. The Florida governor signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill in March 2022, beating Abbott in the fight to empower parents. Also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the legislation prohibits an issue that is largely non-existent: classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
And in April 2022, feeding off of his own momentum, DeSantis signed the Individual Freedom bill, also known as, The Stop W.O.K.E. Act, effectively banning educators from teaching students critical race theory or any other topic that may force students to feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” about their race.
4. Trans Athletes Participating In Women’s Sports
And that brings us to the latest fad diet in the Republican playbook: attacking trans athletes in women’s sports under the guise of “protecting women’s right.”
In June 2021 — on the first day of Pride Month — DeSantis signed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, banning trans women from being able to compete in women’s teams at public schools and colleges. The Florida law requires players to submit a birth certificate showing their sex at birth in order to sign up for a team.
Months later, in October 2021, Abbott signed a DeSantis-inspired House Bill 25 into law, banning trans student-athletes from participating in school sports.
5. Mask Mandates
The list wouldn’t be complete without the manufactured outrage over COVID-19 mitigation efforts — the one that made the phrases, “Don’t tell me what to do with my body” and “I did my own research” the most popular lines of 2021.
In May of that year Abbott officially issued an executive order prohibiting government entities — including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities and government officials — from implementing mask mandates, threatening officials that attempt to impose one with fines and funding cuts. This was the culmination of months of pushback to mask mandates implemented across the state of Texas during the height of the pandemic.
Shortly after, DeSantis — who was extremely vocal about pretending COVID didn’t exist in Florida — followed suit. Going even further than Abbott, in July 2021, the Florida governor issued an executive order banning not only mask mandates but also school closures and other COVID related restrictions across the state.
And in November, DeSantis signed a bill making Florida the first state in the country to threaten businesses and hospitals requiring workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine with fines.